Aside from finding the right college, declaring a major is one of the most important decisions a student can make for the career trajectory.
But even the most thought-out decision can prove to be wrong once a student starts taking classes in their desired major. Then what do they do?
Students deciding to switch majors is extremely common, says Kim Crabbe, director of Drew University’s Center for Career Development. In fact, she estimates 80% of students switch their major.
“You are 17 or 18 years old and you think you have experienced it all, and maybe your class in high school was fantastic, but in college it wasn’t what you thought it would be. It’s experience, maturity and finding yourself.”
The trend tapers off a bit as students get closer to their senior year, says Robert Franek, senior vice president of the Princeton Review, and many times freshmen will remain undeclared to explore their options.
“The switch often happens in their first or second years,” Franek says. “We see fewer students at the beginning of their senior year switching; by second semester sophomore year, you should declare a major.”
But if students do decide they want to change their majors, Franek says the decision shouldn’t be filled with fear or panic.
“The process is navigable and they aren’t hurting their future or lives,” he says. “It should be a fun process—you may find out you get to study things you never even thought of as a junior in high school.”
Here are a few steps for students to take if they are re-thinking their major:
Think before you switch. Franek suggests seeking professional help on whether to alter your major. “You are in a university environment, so you don’t have to do this alone,” he says. “There is an academic advisor or function from the major you are currently in. There’s a full community of resource to draw on to make sure you are right for them.”
Find out how your credits transfer. Franek cautions those changing majors to make sure their hard work prior to the switch wasn’t in vain. Check with your school’s registrar to find out which credits will be applicable to your new major before making the move, he says.
Consider the cost. If you are approaching graduation and decide to make a major switch, Franek says costs should be part of the decision.
“No matter how well-off you are, no one likes to talk about money for college. Add to that, switching majors at the end of your college career and you will need to have a frank discussion, speak to your financial aid office as well and find out what the repercussions are financially.”
See how those with your chosen major have fared. “If you are thinking, ‘I love history but don’t see how it could be a viable career path,’ look at what outcomes were from the history majors at your college,” Crabbe says.
She also notes that for liberal arts majors, the actual major itself doesn’t dictate the career path. “It’s what you love, what inspires you, and what you are good at,” she says.